The number of victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham appears to be even higher than the 1,400 figure which sparked a national outrage, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has said.
The NCA is conducting a huge investigation in the South Yorkshire town following the revelations in the 2014 Jay Report that 1,400 children were groomed and abused there.
Professor’s Alexis Jay’s report sparked national soul-searching when it revealed that the large scale exploitation undertaken by gangs of largely Pakistani-heritage men had been effectively ignored by police and other agencies for more than a decade.
Mr Williamson said his team was now actively engaged with more than 260 victims, had identified 110 “designated suspects” and currently involves 144 officers working on 34 distinct investigations.
He said he is hoping to increase his team – which currently has a £6.9 million annual budget – to between 200 and 250 people.
“We will not falter in our commitment as an agency to this task,” Mr Wiliamson said.
“The identification and bringing to justice of offenders is what what we’ll be judged on.”
He said: “That momentum and pace will increase and that is commensurate with the resources that are put into the investigation.
“I now have 144 which enables me to do a lot more than what I could do when I first started as SIO in January 2016.
“Justice, we are now seeing, is being rendered. And I’ve got a very, very committed team which is pursuing a very, very, worthy mission.”
Mr Williamson described the mushrooming nature of his team’s task, detailing how one women spoken to by his officers recently talked about more than 30 named suspects, 17 other potential victims and 27 potential crime scenes.
The NCA launched operation Stovewood after it was called in by South Yorkshire Police three years ago, and is now the biggest investigation in CSE in the UK.
It is 85% funded by the Home Office and 15% by South Yorkshire Police, and has cost more than £10 million so far.
Asked “why Rotherham”, Mr Williamson agreed that there was combination in the town of a failure to listen to and believe victims, to safeguard them and to investigate their reports.
He said: “Undoubtedly, a toxic mix has come together of a number of factors – those being the four primary ones we are finding in Rotherham. Undoubtedly, that has occurred and as that has resulted in the scale.”
Mr Williamson said four individuals had so far been convicted, 38 arrested and 18 charged.